Jonathan Rea extended his World Superbike Championship advantage to 42-points, over Chaz Davies, courtesy of 2-3 race results at Sepang this weekend.

Having been 5.6s behind Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes in the dry Saturday race, the reigning champion crossed the line 3.7s from Nicky Hayden (Honda) and 2.4s from Davide Giugliano (Ducati) in the Sunday rain.

Shortly afterwards, the Ulsterman explained some of the challenges he and his team faced this weekend - working on both a new engine character and weight distribution for the ZX-10R...
Jonathan, I'm sure you're disappointed not to win, but does it feel like 'mission accomplished' to finish ahead of Chaz and increase your points lead?

Jonathan Rea:
It's difficult, because honestly I feel like we're testing at this point in the season. We've changed our engine character quite a bit since Imola race two. Imola race two was like a test, for example. Then this weekend, with pretty much losing FP1 due to the dirty track conditions, we haven't had a lot of time. FP2 was kind of our best set-up, but for race one we tried to further improve it and went backwards.

I would have been quite happy to have a dry race today because I feel we could have gained more information. Because the plan at this stage is not to just focus on the championship, it's about trying to build a strong package so that at the end of the season we can fight with all our rivals at a more comfortable level.

It feels like the engine character is good now, we just need to understand the weight balance of the bike more. It feels like something we should have been doing in the winter tests. But with the new ZX-10R we started with a bike in a completely different direction to last year's bike, which I was so comfortable on.

So now we are going more back to that and we just need time to understand the weight balance of the bike. But step-by-step we are getting there and gaining confidence.
What are the advantages of this new engine?

Jonathan Rea:
It's not a new engine as such. Basically the bike is much more manageable. Better throttle connection. It's engine character. Inertia is the word Kawasaki likes to use. It's a bike more like last year. The engine feels a little bit 'heavier' for example, so it makes getting on the throttle much easier. It means stopping the bike much more consistently and generally tyre wear is much better.

The change in tyre appearance after race one and two at Imola, when we had different engine specs, was night and day. So it seems for my riding style, the heavier-style engine is working. But since Imola we were able to lose quite a lot of kilos off one area of the bike, and we're trying to compensate for that now with the weight balance. So it just feels like we are testing.

Because if you take two kilos off the rear of the bike, up high, you're left with a bike that behaves completely differently. So it's about understanding where the weight needs to be. But I've got an intelligent group of guys around me and I'm full of confidence that in time we'll have a bike that's really good.
So the engine spec has good potential?

Jonathan Rea:
Oh yeah, definitely.
You wouldn't consider going back to the older spec?

Jonathan Rea:
I think it's something that could suit different tracks. It could be a set-up tool. But for me and my style - where I spend a lot of time on lean angle into the corner and use wider lines - I feel like I manage the tyre much better with something with an easier throttle connection. Not some kind of animal that's just controlled by electronics. I mean, we're dealing with 220-plus horsepower. It's important to make that easy to use.

Last year's bike was a fully-developed bike, very easy to use. I'm really proud of everyone at Kawasaki because this is a brand new bike and we're leading the championship against tough competition. So it shows that they've brought out a bike that's already quite strong. But, like its predecessor, it's going to need time to be developed. I think race-by-race - and now [after signing a new contract extension] we can talk about year-by-year - it's going to get much stronger.
Next up is your home round at Donington Park, what are your thoughts about taking this package to that track?

Jonathan Rea:
I enjoy Donington. Unfortunately I've never been amazing there. I don't know why, because I like the circuit! The good thing is the ZX-10R works really well there, last year Tom and myself had a one-two.

So we should be confident to go there and try to improve. But as I say it will be important to define our weight balance because we're getting a little bit lost right now, trying to find that. And we could really do with a couple of days of testing, away from the pressure of trying to go fast, to make race runs and understand our pace.

But I'm obviously happy with our overall position right now in the championship. I also want to say congratulations to Nicky; it's great for World Superbike to see another rider and manufacturer get a race win.

By Peter McLaren


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